Rep. Rogers: Obama Administration Decisions Add to Danger in Yemen

Friday, 09 May 2014 08:25 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Obama administration made "decisions" after a serious terror threat in April to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen that are adding to tensions this week and threats that shut down the same embassy this week, House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers claims.

"This is not the first serious threat to the embassy," the Michigan Republican told CNN "Situation Room" host Wolf Blitzer Friday afternoon. "There was a plot that was believed to be disrupted back in April of this year, and what is concerning is that the tempo of our counterterrorism operations slowed for a period of time."

And while the tempo slowed, said Rogers, "we think that they've been able to reconstitute and gather up in strength."

Last month, an unprecedented U.S. and Yemeni aerial campaign killed more than 40 al-Qaida militants in a bid to thwart attacks by the network's local affiliate. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been linked to a number of failed terror plots against the United States, and its leader recently appeared in a rare video in which he vowed to attack Western "crusaders" wherever they are.

The decisions made afterward by the Obama administration "added to the tension and the threats that you see to the embassy today," Rogers said. "This once again proves tempo in counterterrorism operations is incredibly important."

And the terrorists, said Rogers, "feel like they are in the driver's seat in this, and they are going to continue as long as they feel that they are making progress."

The embassy in Yemen was closed to the public on Thursday after numerous attacks on foreigners, reports AFP,  including fears that Al-Qaeda operatives were seeking revenge for a Yemeni offensive against AQAP terror strongholds in the Arabian Peninsula in the south part of the country.

State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki said Wednesday that the embassy was being closed because of the attacks against western interests "and information we have received has given us enough concern to take this precautionary step,"

A French citizen was killed on Monday and another wounded in an attack in Sanaa's diplomatic district. The two worked for a private security company guarding the European Union's delegation.

Wednesday, Yemeni security forces shot the alleged head of the terror cell behind the attacks, and later in the day said it was still searching for suspects after five "Al-Qaida terrorists" were arrested with "arms, ammunition, and devices used to carry out terrorist acts."

The United States considers AQAP as the Al Qaeda network's deadliest franchise, and the group, which merged terror forces in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, has been linked to numerous plots against the United States.

CNN correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom said his sources in Yemen reported the credible threat toward the Yemeni capital of Sanaa is more serious than thought, and they do not know when the U.S. embassy will be able to open again.

The threat is also resulting in fuel shortages across the country, Jamjoom reported, and Yemen officials are worried their military will run out of fuel while it is waging its actions against Al Qaeda.

"We have fighting in the streets of the capital," said Rogers. "Obviously you need to be extremely careful for the diplomats at that particular facility. Maybe it is too early to pull them out completely... they are in a scale-downed version. I would hold that scaled-down version of embassy personnel as long as possible to make sure that we have the ability to push back."

In addition, Rogers said, the Yemeni government palace has been under siege throughout the day.

Suspected Al-Qaida terrorists attacked Yemen's presidential palace Friday, killing five guards and triggering a fierce gunfight as the jihadists hit back at an army offensive aimed at crushing them.

President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi was not at the palace in the capital when gunmen attacked a checkpoint manned by guards outside the compound.

"Anyplace where there is it cooperation between the Yemenese and the U.S. government, they are trying to make sure that they are targets of opportunity and they are taking advantage of it," said Rogers of the terror forces.

The United States is also having difficulty tracking some individuals following leaks last year that affected how they communicate with each other, admitted Rogers.

"We need to make a political decision and we need to be engaged in a high tempo activity when it comes to counterterrorism," said Rogers. "We need to cross that threshold. We should take advantage of every opportunity we have to provide disrupting activity."

Rogers told Blitzer he has a long list of things that keep him awake at night, including the threat of cyber attacks.

"But we have a whole diverse group of affiliated organizations all who are expressing an interest to do operations external to where they operate, meaning Europe or the United States," said Rogers.

"What really worries me is the lack of discussion on the pooling of Al Qaeda elements in the east of Syria at a rate we've never seen before, including, literally, thousands, with an "S," of those getting combat training and eventually will come back home. That's a huge problem we'll face in the near future and a deadly one."

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